Expert Article Library
Medical Expert Testimony Inadmissible in Zoloft by Pfizer Wrongful Death Suit
Case Name: Miller v. Pfizer (Click here for the full text of the case)
Court: United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit
Date: February 4, 2004
Expert: Neuropsychopharmacologist. Dr. David Healy
Issues: Was the district court correct in not allowing Dr. Healy to testify because of gaps in his analysis?
Summary of case: Mark and Cheryl Miller were the parents of Matthew Miller. A doctor prescribed Matthew the antidepressant Zoloft; one week later Matthew committed suicide. Matthews parents sued Pfizer, the maker of Zoloft, in a wrongful death action claiming that Matthew committed suicide because of Zoloft.
Role of the expert: Dr. Healy gave opinions under deposition that Zoloft was the cause of Matthews suicide. He based his opinions on articles and studies involving Zoloft and other similar drugs. Of these studies, he placed the most emphasis on his own healthy-volunteer study, two "challenge-dechallenge-rechallenge" reports, and a study conducted by Dr. Ian Hindmarch. He also relied on depositions from this case; testimony, depositions, and exhibits from other cases; Pfizer documents; an application of what are known as Koch's postulates (which are employed to evaluate causality); and a meta-analysis he performed using Pfizers data. Miller at 1328
Challenges to the Expert's testimony: Pfizer challenged Dr. Healys testimony under the standard for admitting expert witness testimony set out by the Supreme Court of the U.S. in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993). The district court appointed two independent experts to review Dr. Healys methodology and causation conclusion. After investigation, the two experts filed a report with the district court that discredited Dr. Healys claims. The court followed the opinions of the court appointed experts and ruled much of Dr. Healys testimony inadmissible. The court agreed with the independent experts that Dr. Healys conclusions should be questioned. They discredited Dr. Healys conclusion for the following reasons: Dr. Healys studies have not been the subject of peer review; Dr. Healy did not use any control groups in his studies; the sample-size used in the studies was small; and there were many interactions between researchers and participants during the studies. The courts independent experts were also wary of Dr. Healys use of the Koch postulates, saying he misapplied the first six postulates and did not apply the seventh. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district courts application of the standard set out in Daubert. It denied the argument made by the Millers that the district court was to thorough when it examined the testimony of Dr. Healy.
Summary prepared by B. Kass, Student, The University of California Hastings College of the Law